We cannot commit ourselves to teaching the next generation how to create a world without war if we insist upon battling our own disappointing modern selves.
♫ Which side are you on, boys, which side are you on? ♫
I hum along absentmindedly with Ani DiFranco as I make my daughter’s oatmeal. When an ad comes on, I switch back to NPR to offer half an ear to the coverage of the impact of political gaffes in the swing states. I am neither here nor there—paying just enough attention to the radio to flip back to music if they start saying “bombings” or “killed” or “child molester.”
Sometimes I feel guilty for using the radio to distract myself from my toddler’s incessant chatter, but today I forgive myself for doing what I must in order to sanely launch my family into another day.
Later, I find I am still singing that Pete Seeger-inspired Ani song. It’s been so long since Ms. DiFranco was the soundtrack of my life and the lives of all the women in my college dorm. It almost feels like I am dreaming other women’s stories.
Now, we baby feminists have grown up and away from the “Little Folksinger” who taught us how to call out the patriarchal powers-that-be and get in touch with the fierce lioness within. Many of the girls who were closer than sisters have lost track of each other, just as we have lost track of our younger selves and Ani’s “32 Flavors.”
More than a decade after the singer lead the vanguard and offered the soundtrack to our dorm room revolutions and coffee-house tempests, we fans have become a diverse lot. We women in our 30s are doing our best in our own way, practicing our own brands of feminism and launching our own challenges to the status quo.
Some of us are focused on raising awesome, empowered daughters and sons who won’t be shackled by generations of gendered B.S. Others are taking a trickier path in the corporate world, ignoring Audre Lorde’s warning that “the master’s tools can never dismantle the master’s house.” And then there are the taking-it-to-the streets contemporary reproductive rights activists and civil rights warriors who are sure their answer to Ani’s question, ♫ are you part of the solution or are you part of the con? ♫
There certainly are a million shades of technicolor womanhood in between these three approaches to living feminism, but let this sample stand for the whole, will you?
Breakfast-making mama that I am, I am one of those who hopes that feminism can be boldly enacted in the microsphere of domesticity. That is, if I have the time, energy and the head space to align my action with my aspirations.
Of course, Ani is a mother too and she continues to churn out grown-up versions of the songs that shook me out of the cozy bed of adolescent oblivion. Back in the mid ’90s Ani taught me to think about words like rape, abortion and corporation, but now I often change the station when they start talking about such things.
I am left to wonder about my place in “the con.”
It’s another election year, and it time for us to pick sides, even if we find it hard to believe completely in the promises of a politician offering solutions that we know are too great to be solved by one individual or one political party. Will I allow Ani’s words to pierce the domestic bubble and awaken me from the maternal oblivion that has nearly swallowed me whole?
Is it enough to expose my daughter to a canon of feminist songs when she is old enough to understand? What if I go so far as to teach my little girl these other lines from Ani’s song “Which Side Are You On?”:
♫ Feminism ain’t about women that’s not who it is for it’s about a shift in consciousness that will bring an end to war ♫
Will this sort of politically enlightened parenting really shift consciousness and end war even if I and other well-meaning mamas like me are too busy to volunteer for a candidate who represents us best? Will being my kind of mama make up for skipping Washington D.C. protests against the wars, homophobia and reproductive rights?
I don’t know, but I worry that I am not doing nearly enough.
When the stress of carrying on the feminist agenda in a little vacuum really gets me, and when listening to the right music and liking all the coolest progressive Facebook pages no longer sustains me, I look beyond my little nest. I turn my gaze to other women, these former sisters of mine, and stare at them from all the wrong angles. I feel vaguely superior to the women who’ve sold their souls and their prime reproductive years to big companies that squelch the independent marketplace.
At the same time, I feel like a failure compared to the women who turned those undergrad women’s studies minors into masters in public administration to carry on Planned Parenthood’s vital work.
So much for consciousness. So much for feminism. Bring on the war.
If Ani is right and feminism is about all people and it is about changing the way we see the world so that we can end war, we obviously still don’t collectively understand feminism yet. We still cannot seem to rise to the occasion when we’re asked to apply all that we’ve learned from all the articles we’ve read and songs we’ve hummed.
This essay began with a song that grew into a question, but was really fueled more by the need to wallow in my own guilt and feelings of inadequacy than it was by a desire to find an answer. Before we can tackle which side are you on?, I think we need to ask ourselves “what is keeping us from picking a side?”
There’s a huge crack between our idealized, younger firebrand selves and the more grown-up incarnations that have made a million little sacrifices in the name of comfort, distraction, parenting and livelihood.
Feminism, ending war and changing the world must begin with self-forgiveness; forgiveness for having changed, grown softer and for putting the needs of a few people before the needs of the collective. We cannot commit ourselves to teaching the next generation how to create a world without war if we insist upon battling with our own disappointing modern selves.
Self-recrimination equals paralysis; no squirrel caught in the middle of the road, telling himself “stupid, stupid, stupid” ever triumphed over the fast approaching headlights.
Instead, we need to cultivate the inner flexibility of spirit that allows us to accept the new reality and use all that we have learned in our less-than-radical thirties to better the wider world.
Why not start by declaring that self-love means never having to say you’re sorry for letting yourself down? I am thinking that universal love means we never have to say we’re sorry for letting Ani DiFranco down too.
Marisa Goudy is a writer and a communications consultant living in New York’s Hudson Valley. A Cape Codder by birth and temperament, she will always be a mermaid living in the mountains. She’s passionate about motherhood, healing, the spiritual quest, art, politics, entrepreneurship, and living a juicy creative life (though she rarely has time to be passionate about all of those things in one day). Find her at www.marisagoudy.com
Editor: Jennifer Townsend
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